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Focused on the Future: Orange County Community College and Continuing Education Presidents Look to What’s Next Feature Story

August 31, 2020

Over the last several months, Orange County’s community colleges and career education center have overcome the unprecedented challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. In just a few short months, these schools have taken a vast majority of their programs and classes online and gone from overcoming challenges to looking towards the future. By all accounts, it is a future that will depend heavily on the role they play educating students and guiding them into well-paying and secure careers, and providing the well-educated workforce Orange County’s economy needs to start thriving again.

To celebrate the beginning of the 2020 school year, we caught up with Orange County’s community college and continuing education presidents and asked them to reflect on the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, how colleges have responded, and the role community college, career, and adult education will play in the region’s economic recovery. Here’s what they had to say:

Coastline College – Dr. Loretta Adrian, President

“Community Colleges are critical partners to the recovery of Orange County’s economy from COVID-19.  In a world driven by rapidly changing technology and innovative business solutions, Community College CE programs offer industry-driven training programs that are technology focused, accessible, and affordable. Coastline College – with its 45 years of experience in anywhere anytime online education – is well poised to train the OC workforce in the high-demand, high-growth areas such as IT/Cybersecurity, Amazon Web Services, Data Science and more.  We offer cutting-edge opportunities such as the CA Cybersecurity Apprenticeship Program to equip students with skills and knowledge to thrive.”

Cypress College – Dr. Joanna Schilling, President

“Although I miss having our students and employees on campus, I am also excited for the many new ways we are serving our students in this remote environment. Our virtual counseling, library, and support services, for example, are available much later into the evening and we are discovering students can find us more easily, and that we communicate better, and more frequently with our students. We are learning along with our students and I am excited about being better today than we were in March, and better tomorrow than we were today.”

Fullerton College – Dr. Greg Schulz, President

“As we move into the 2020–21 school year, I’m reminded of the expression, ‘Where there’s challenge, there’s opportunity.’ Though the year has brought many challenges to our community, I believe adapting to these challenges will be essential to building back Orange County’s economy, and Fullerton College is proud to play a key role by offering a robust selection of courses, the majority of which will be held entirely online.  Some will use this time at home to go back to school and further their education with an associate degree or certificate or by learning a new skillset for a career change. I look forward to seeing all the growth in our community that will emerge from these challenging times.”

Irvine Valley College – Dr. John C. Hernandez, President

“During these ever-changing times, Irvine Valley College (IVC) is committed to offering career education programs designed to prepare students for today’s fluid workforce demands. IVC connects with students by fostering a sense of campus community, that is all the more critical during times when students may need extra help in seeking advice and solutions for their academic and career planning. Community colleges are well-positioned to provide this instruction and support. IVC is committed to partnering with employers to develop programs that align with industry needs and to prepare today’s workforce for emerging industries in a post-pandemic environment.”

North Orange Continuing Education – Valentina Purtell, Provost

“California’s current economic downturn is impacting adults’ ability to gain stable and sustainable employment pointing to the need for a responsive and flexible post-secondary education. Short-term career technical education programs offered at North Orange Continuing Education (NOCE) are a gateway to success for adults to gain employment, reenter the workforce, or upgrade their skills. NOCE has embraced the challenge and successfully transferred all its programs to an online format and launched additional supports, such as a computer loan program and technical assistance, to help our students succeed in a virtual environment. As we begin the new academic year, we want our students to know that NOCE is there for them. While we may adjust our delivery, we remain constant in empowering adults to invest in their future by pursuing education.”

Orange Coast College – Dr. Angelica Loera Suarez, President

“At OCC, we have fostered a culture of care for our students that has been invaluable during the COVID 19 pandemic. We were able to quickly pivot to online instruction and services while maintaining and, at times, expanding the resources that students need to be successful. OCC’s Career and Technical Education programs empower our students to be “career ready” and enter the workforce in a short period of time. The flexibility of these programs coupled with dynamic, relevant instruction and high success rates, make them the ideal choice for working adults and displaced workers alike.”

Saddleback College – Dr. Elliot Stern, President

“Saddleback College’s career education programs fill a critical need in our community.  Our allied health programs train the paramedics, nurses, and other healthcare personnel who serve as first responders in the current crisis. Our other career education programs serve students with passion for hands-on learning who come to us to train for a new career or boost their skills for a promotion. I’m very proud of the innovations we’ve developed in the current environment, including expanding already robust offerings. I think the year ahead will show that Saddleback’s faculty, staff, and administrators worked together to achieve extraordinary things during a very challenging time.”

Santa Ana College – Dr. Marilyn Flores, Interim President

“In today’s dynamic and ever-evolving global economy, community colleges are playing a more critical role than ever before. The demands of our growing and changing workforce lead to employment needs that must be met. It is our responsibility as the providers of not only accessible, but affordable higher education to provide a path to employment for students of all backgrounds both social and economic.  In witnessing the changes COVID-19 has made on society, we must identify the essential areas that will need the most attention as we approach economic recovery. Retraining of the unemployed along with advancing the skills of our frontline workers such as fire, EMT, criminal justice, and nursing will answer the calls for a workforce built to meet a societal demand.”

Santiago Canyon College – Jose Vargas, Interim President

“The COVID-19 pandemic has placed community colleges in a position that showcases the true value of educational accessibility and agility. As the new normal has pivoted us to remote instruction, we have witnessed community colleges quickly and effectively adjust to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse student community with changing demands, educational goals, and unique abilities.  Because of this agility, students are able to continue their education with access to a full array of courses, certificates, degrees, and student services. Our communities also benefit as we continue to support students in California’s 13 Essential Critical Infrastructure categories including Health, Emergency Services, Energy, Critical Manufacturing, and Water and Wastewater.

          Through challenges we discover newfound strength and with this, I look forward to continuing to address and close the barriers and achievement gaps of our disproportionately impacted students.”

For more information about the many career education programs and opportunities available to students, click here to keep exploring.